Abe must ditch diluting line for truly ‘unshakeable’ apology
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s speech last Friday was keenly awaited for an apology. East Asian countries were critical, but for Japan locally, his enunciation was wellreceived, with Pew polls indicating his approval ratings rose by 5 percent to 44 percent.
“In late April, the prime minister used “remorse” but not “apology,” the Nikkei Asian Review said. And it is important here that Abe made the improvement. The Nikkei Review further conjectured that it was “souring public opinion” that forced Abe to express “apology.”
Credit should be given where it is due. Abe uttered the vital “repentance” for Japan’s aggression during that horrible conflict, admitting that horrible wrong requires sorrow as well as beseechment of forgiveness.
“Incident, aggression and war were waged, but now we shall abandon colonial rule forever,” Abe said.
One line in Abe’s apology would have earned international focus and earned the recognition that Abe had apologized, had it not been undercut and overshadowed by a cop-out line later in his speech.
“Japan has repeatedly expressed the feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology for its actions during the war ... that commitment will be unshakeable into the future,” the Japanese prime minister declared.
That sentence upheld the sanctity and reassurance of the Murayama statement on the 15th anniversary of the war’s end, wherein then-Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama stated his sincere apologies to the nations that were hurt. It is also in the vein of previous apologies by Japan’s leaders.
Like Murayama’s statement, Abe’s was a cabinet decision, invoking the backing of the Japanese cabinet, and represents official position.
Yet, “We must not let our children, grandchildren and even further generations to come, who have nothing to do with that war, be predestined to apologize. Still, even so, we Japanese, across generations, must squarely face the history of the past,” Abe said.
This confounded the guarantee to uphold the authority of past apologies.
It is highly regrettable that Abe inserted that highly provocative sentence about future generations. Moral clarity should have instead been the overriding goal. He muddled an otherwise qualifying speech. In fact, Michael Green, a scholar writing for the Center for International and Strategic Studies, an American think tank, even gave Abe the recognition that he “surpassed all previous statements by other post-war Japanese leaders, stressing ‘atonement,’ the ‘countless lives lost’ in Japan, Korea, China and Southeast Asia, the suffering of allied POWs, and ‘women behind the battlefields whose honor and dignity were severely injured.’”
What is important is about the prevention of another path to war is education, and a national consciousness of the clarity of the suffering and responsibility that came with that war. What precisely will the victims be satisfied with? That is a frustration that is commonly expressed. The perception of sincerity is most important, and where Abe has fallen short — when the feeling of apology has been sufficiently conveyed, people-to-people tensions will be dissolved.
How to express sincerity is a topic for discussion, and perhaps through better communication and diplomatic outreach, efforts can be made to generate healing. A joint history project has fallen apart because of debate between Japan and Chinese scholars over crucial facts in events such as the Nanking Massacre. Japan’s compensation for women forced into prostitution for the military, euphemistically called “comfort women,” should be revived despite Japan’s line that it was part of compensation done with the Republic of Korea when the two countries established ties.
His pat-on-one’s-own-back sentence of “exonerating” younger generations falls dangerously close to confounding those very same generations. Whether a future leader chooses to apologize is not up to Abe to decide; however, that sentence is a dangerous invocation to the young that undercuts the supposed remembrance of history that he put in the very next sentence.
Abe, or a future Japan’s Prime Minister, will have the opportunity to correct this unfortunate undercutting of a solemn pledge to honor and peace, to heal wounds and to build a better world.
As a foundation stone for healing, just apologizing, without preconditions, without expectations of something in return, without needless definitions of what the future should do and especially not without obfuscation as to the need to remember the national burden — that would exponentially strengthen the apology.